Cannabis Agronomy for Licensed Commercial Grows (Nth America)
Save up to 90% on fertiliser input costs!
“Growers who fail to cut input costs simply won’t last, in the long term, in what is becoming a highly competitive legal market.”
Med-Tek offers cannabis agronomy services where you can save between 50- 90% on fertilizer input costs while improving yields and cannabinoid production.
Any savvy business operator understands that if you are to run a successful business, reducing costs while improving quality are the cornerstones of success. Thus, if you are running a professional cannabis cultivation business, nothing is more important than cutting costs while also improving quality.
If you are purchasing either liquid fertilizer concentrates or preblended, full spectrum dry powder products you are paying far too much for your fertilizer inputs. Further, you are purchasing one size fits all products which, at best, is a compromise where it comes to ideal crop nutrition.
For example, even where purchasing a full-spectrum dry powder product direct from the manufacturer you will find that you are paying far more than you need to. One product to look at for comparison between mixing your own and purchasing dry full spectrum fertilizers direct is the Front Row Ag product. We recently got a quote on a large commercial volume to cost compare. It was a very good quote and far cheaper than you would be paying for liquid concentrates, either at wholesale or through a hydroponic store. The quote came in at $3.50 a pound for 12,000 pounds (6 US ton). This equated to roughly 6-7c per gallon treatment. That’s impressive! It’s certainly far cheaper than purchasing hideously overpriced, overhyped liquids that have been marked up by wholesalers and retailers along the way. For example, if you were to use House and Garden liquid base (no additives) you’d be paying something like 16c a gallon; Canna base (no additives), 35c a gallon; GH 3-part base (no additives), 15c a gallon etc. Of course, a bunch of hydroponic nutrient manufacturers would also have you believe that if you want to achieve optimum yields it is necessary to use their numerous costly additives. At this point you start looking at prices upwards of 60c per gallon. On this basis Front Row Ag – a company that I have a lot of respect for given they market with integrity – represents reasonably good value for money.
However, if you mix your own fertilizers you can save 50% or more on Front Row Ag’s prices, even where large volume (6 ton) buys on dry powder products (manufacturer direct) are concerned. I.e. you can expect to produce nutrients at between 2.5 – 3.5c a gallon (as feed solution) by mixing your own.
Additionally, I also can teach you to make products such as pH up and down, beneficial bacteria and fungi additives, root stimulants, clone gels etc. Further, I can provide names of suppliers for the necessary ingredients to manufacture these products. This saves you a great deal of money on nutrient and additive inputs (do the sums!).
In a mid-sized to large commercial grow these savings can equate to tens of thousands of dollars per annum, or more.
Cannabis: The Plant of a Thousand Myths
Flashy labels and extravagant marketing claims do not produce optimum yields. A sound nutrient program that is customised to your crop and growing methodology will.
Recently Jerome Pier, a PhD from Nutrien Ag Solutions in the US, highlighted that many cannabis cultivators seem to believe that “cannabis is (apparently) a mystical plant”; based on this, cannabis must require a “mystical fertilizer!” His point being that a lot of myths surround cannabis crop nutrition and that for years, among others, some hydroponic nutrient and additive manufacturers/suppliers have made all sorts of outlandish, science defying claims surrounding their products. As a result, many cannabis cultivators have been led up the garden path about cannabis crop nutrition optimums.
According to Pier’s, cannabis requires very similar plant nutrition to greenhouse grown tomato. Pier’s had lab analysed (reverse engineered) one “premium” claimed to be cannabis specific nutrient program and found of the 13 products analysed they were all “way under” the stated guaranteed analysis, and that nutrient solution lab analysis of the program at four or more growing stages showed that this much hyped, claimed to be cannabis specific nutrient and additive line used the tomato model as the basis to its formulations. Pier’s also noted that with this program growers needed to use 4-7 products a week and that one 2.5 gallon (9.46L) product in this program cost $589.00 USD.  He then went onto say that liquid hydroponic products sold through the hydroponics stores were “very expensive” and that these prices were prohibitive to commercial legal cannabis cultivators who were facing falling pound prices and as a result needed to reduce input costs.
Pier’s then went onto say that many cultivators had little to no understanding of nutrient chemistry, and that key to the evolution of the legal cannabis market would be education of cannabis growers re developing their own fertilizers for use in commercial scale production.
None of this came as any surprise to myself. Cannabis growers, for far too many years, have operated in a grey or black market where very little to nil consumer protection exists. As a result, scams and highly deceptive marketing have become all too common with just a few hydroponic and nutrient manufacturers. In fact, one might argue that highly deceptive marketing has now become the gold standard for several nutrient and additive suppliers who dribble on about e.g. products produced from 100% pharmaceutical grade ingredients, along with providing feed charts that require 6 or more products to get a good result. All I can say to this is, if a supplier tells you that you need 6 or so of their products to produce at optimum they either are supplying a lousy base nutrient or they are leading you up the garden path, upsizing the numbers of products you need for their financial gain. This, though, does not benefit you or your yields.
For about 20-years I have spent many thousands of dollars lab analysing, among others, some of the much hyped, claimed to be “crop specific” nutrient lines. In just about all instances when I broke down the recommended usage rates (from labels and feed charts) of the nutrient and additive recommendations (ml/L on feed charts) the resulting ppm of each nutrient ion in solution was far from perfect.
This was always going to be the case! It is impossible to formulate a one size fits all nutrient program for varying cultivars and growing methodologies. The best you can hope for is to luxury (excessively) feed which just about all instances results in lower yield and cannabinoid production than would occur under a well-managed, optimised, custom formulated nutrient program.
In some cases, manufacturers have got things horribly wrong, which undoubtedly leads to quite significant yield losses. Perhaps not too surprisingly, some of the manufacturers who make the most grandiose marketing claims are actually the ones who produce the most substandard products. In some cases where I have lab analysed the same products a couple of times in the same year I have found massive discrepancies in the formulations/products as a result of poor batch-to-batch quality control. In other cases, I have caught manufacturers out making false label claims, and in a few cases I have busted and exposed suppliers for highly unethical (depraved) practices such as claiming their products were e.g. organic when, in fact, they were anything but.
Unfortunately, what appears to have happened in the hydroponics industry is that in the case of just a few companies marketing has superseded product quality, and in a market where no consumer protection exists this means some manufacturers have been able to fully exploit the gullibility and lack of plant science and chemistry knowledge on the part of some hydroponic consumers.
Other than this….
Genetics/Cultivar Influences Optimums in Cannabis Nutrition
Some hydroponic nutrient suppliers claim their nutrients are crop specific. However, in reality, an optimised nutrient program needs to be cultivar specific.
Cannabis growers cultivate a wide variety of cultivars/hybrids. Each cultivar/hybrid has different nutritional requirements than the other cultivars/hybrids. Nutritional programs should be adjusted according to the specific cultivar’s/hybrid’s requirements.
For example, one study found when looking at the potassium requirements of cannabis in two separate cultivars that:
“The plants were exposed to five levels of K (15, 60, 100, 175, and 240 ppm K). Growth response to K inputs varied between genotypes, revealing genetic differences within the Cannabis sativa species to mineral nutrition. Fifteen ppm of K was insufficient for optimal growth and function in both genotypes and elicited visual deficiency symptoms. Two hundred and forty ppm K proved excessive and damaging to development of the genotype Royal Medic, while in Desert Queen it stimulated rather than restricted shoot and root development. The differences between the genotypes in the response to K nutrition were accompanied by some variability in uptake, transport, and accumulation of nutrients. For example, higher levels of K transport from root to the shoot were apparent in Desert Queen. “ 
Landis et al (2019) found that significant differences in nutrient concentrations occurred among CBD (hemp) cultivars, suggesting that broader target nutrient ranges may be appropriate for cannabis. This study concluding:
“This study identified significant differences in leaf tissue nutrient concentrations among greenhouse grown CBD hemp Cannabis cultivars, which suggests nutrient uptake, partitioning, and/or utilization may differ among cultivars.”
As an example of significant differences in leaf tissue nutrients, here are some results from one cannabis tissue analysis I ran for a US based client in early 2020. From this analysis you can see quite significant differences between calcium (Ca) and phosphorous (P) when looking at two separate cultivars grown under the exact same nutrient program in the exact same environmental conditions. Both cultivars had tissue samples taken for analysis at week-5 of flower. Units are mg/kg. See following analysis
From this analysis you can see quite significant differences between Ca and P when looking at two separate cultivars grown in the exact same environment under the exact same nutrient program where tissue samples were taken at the same week of flowering.
Further to this, growing methodology (e.g. fertigation frequency, VPD, CO2 levels, light spectrum and intensity and substrate type) can have quite a significant impact when determining nutrient optimums for any specific cultivar.
I’ve consulted in cannabis agronomy for over a decade. In the last eight or so years we have had access to tissue testing labs for analysis of nutrients, terpenes and cannabinoids. What I can tell you with 100% certainty is that optimal cannabis production (yields, terpene suite/profile and cannabinoid percentages) occur under the basic essential plant nutrients. In many cases, a client will come off a very expensive hydroponic nutrient and additive program that incorporates multiple additives which contain kelps, sugars and other secret herbs and spices and see potency and yield increases under the basic plant nutrients. In all cases my clients save many thousands of dollars per annum on input costs while at the same time achieving better results across the board.
Other than a well-balanced nutrient program of the essential nutrient elements I also recommend the use of silica (a beneficial or quasi essential nutrient element) in solution. All the trichomes of cannabis are full of silica and more so than other crops cannabis benefits from silica (Bugbee). X-ray microanalysis reveals that hairs from any part of the cannabis plant possess silica. Silica is distributed more or less uniformly all over the surface of the trichomes. X-ray mapping of the ash confirms the siliceous nature of the hairs and the presence of Ca in the cystoliths. Some Ca is probably distributed throughout the inner cavity of the hairs. But the enormous quantities of silica found on the cell walls of the hairs of cannabis mask the small quantities of Ca (Dayanandan, P. and Kaufman, P.B).
In fact, just recently (April 29 2021), UCSU researchers released cannabis specific findings that showed that a peat substrate amended with silica coated perlite increased dry bud yield by 28% while CBD increased 16%.
In the NCSU study, researchers blended a 70% peat and 30% perlite substrate. To aid irrigation, researchers added a wetting agent to the substrate in addition to dolomitic lime to obtain a substrate pH of 6. The variable was the perlite formulation. One set of plants had uncoated perlite, while the other substrate mixture used a coated perlite mix that included Si and a low level of potassium phosphate. (Si chemically bonds to potassium phosphate for plant delivery.)
Clones of the CBD cultivar ‘BaOx’ were transplanted into the substrates, grown vegetatively over four weeks before inducing flowering with long nights. Researchers measured growth parameters during the experiment and cannabinoid profiles at the end of the study.
Researchers found plants grown in perlite coated with Si had larger diameters. Nutrient uptake was also higher in plants using coated perlite. Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur concentrations were higher in the plants with the Si perlite blend compared to the uncoated perlite.
There was a 28% increase in the total bud dry weight produced by each plant grown in the coated perlite blend. In addition, the total CBD production per plant was 16% greater with the coated perlite versus uncoated. Based on these trials, the addition of Si improved overall plant performance and yield. (Brian E. Whipker, David Logan, Patrick Veazie, Paul Cockson and W. Garrett Owen)
Other than this, silica acts as a preventative for fungal pathogens (e.g. powdery mildew) taking hold of the crop. Certainly, loading silica into the tissue helps on this basis. I.e., to date, dozens of reports have confirmed the preventative effects of Si against plant diseases, most notably powdery mildews. Originally, this protective role was attributed to the accumulation of silica in the leaves, which was believed to interfere with pathogen penetration into the epidermal cells. This hypothesis of a passive role, as a mechanical barrier, has been contradicted by reports of Si protecting against root pathogens. As a result, it is now believed that silicon deposition at sites of fungal pathogen penetration may be a common component of the host-defence response in a variety of plant families.
Thus, Jerome Piers made some very good points. Certainly, the future of large scale, legal cannabis production will see commercial cannabis operations producing their own custom formulated nutrient programs relevant to cultivar and growing methodology.
Growers who fail to cut input costs simply won’t last, in the long term, in what is becoming a highly competitive legal market.
“I provide a full training and support package in recognition that for many commercial grow operators nutrient formulation and manufacturing is a new thing that can appear intimidating.”
Working with solid/powder compound fertilizers (e.g. calcium nitrate, magnesium nitrate, potassium nitrate, MKP, magnesium sulphate) and easy to mix formulas you can drastically reduce your fertilizer input costs to between 2.5 – 3.5c a gallon of feed solution. Additionally, when working with formulas that have been dialled into your cultivar/s and growing methodology through custom formulating, using tissue analysis, you will typically see improvements in plant health and yields (inflorescence weight and medicinal oil percentages).
I provide baseline formulas for your substrate of choice and guide you on what fertilizers you require and where to purchase them. I can help you with purchasing drums and mixers, and I provide stock concentrate formulas and ml per gallon usage rates. You will be provided with easy to follow step-by-step written mixing instructions (48 pages), along with a guide on tissue analysis (best practice, how to take samples, submitting samples, tests required etc) and I walk you through your first mixes using Whatsapp, Skype, Zoom etc to ensure no mistakes are made.
From there, we run tissue analysis and refine your nutrient program to cultivar/s and growing methodology.
Basically, I provide a full training and support package in recognition that for many grow operators nutrient formulation and manufacturing is a new thing that can appear intimidating. Don’t worry, it’s very easy with some guidance and basic training.
Further, I have written extensively over the years about all things hydroponic growing. This material is scientifically based and follows best practice based on current research and methodologies. I provide this written material to my clients to answer any tech questions they may have about creating optimised growth conditions for cannabis. Very few consultants are able to say the same thing and instead provide advice verbally where things can be forgotten or lost in translation. Additionally, by having things in writing this enables you to seek second opinions and scrutinise the advice I provide in what is an industry where too often dubious advice is given.
Other Services Offered
- If you looking for a specific formula (e.g. a specific additive that is sold through the hydroponics retail sector) I can likely provide it or something very close.
- If you require guidance on the interpretation of plant tissue analysis and your existing nutrient program I can provide this. My fee for this service is $100 per hour.
- If you require research (R&D) and/or technical advice on product options or evolving technologies etc I work as a remote assistant to licensed grows. I have over 20 years’ experience in product (chemicals, biologicals, hardware) sourcing, both domestically and internationally. I have extensive experience in dealing with offshore suppliers and I have lived and worked intermittently in Asia and South America for over a decade. Throughout this time I have established numerous, solid business relationships with reliable suppliers who produce and supply quality products.
- If you require help with your facility design I can help here.
Why hire me as your consultant?
A few good reasons.
- I have a strong professional and educational background in plant science and the sciences (chemistry and biology) in general. I started my working career as an apprentice in horticulture and spent a total of 7-years working in this field. After this, I began working in photographic chemistry for Kodak and then Agfa and studied industrial chemistry. Later I returned to agriculture where I have worked in agronomy, consultancy, fertilizer manufacturing and R&D.
- I am science based. The advice I provide comes from having a solid scientific understanding of crop nutrition and plant science.
- I have a solid background in hydroponics and cannabis and have worked extensively in the commercial (legal) ‘Med’ and ‘Rec’ sectors in Nth America spanning many years. As a result, I understand the realities and challenges of commercial cannabis production.
- I have a longstanding, good reputation for providing solid grow information. Some may not know this, but manicbotanix.com has for over a decade been seen as a reliable go to source for grow information. In 2002 I published a grow book (Integral Hydroponics) that went on to become the Australian ‘hydro’ Bible – with several hundred thousand copies of this book sold over the years. Since then I have published numerous articles on all things medical grade cannabis production and hydroponics (first on integralhydro.com and then here on manicbotanix.com). This information, in many cases, was years ahead of its time and is now being supported by scientific research.
- I am client focused. The advice I give does not have an underlying, hidden commercial agenda and I do not take kickbacks from suppliers to recommend their products. My aim is to achieve the best outcome for my clients and save them as much money as possible in the process, given the task at hand.
- I work offshore/remotely and you get the quality of advice cheaper from me then going to consultants based locally with equivalent expertise. Think of me as a digital nomad who has lower overheads (i.e. living is cheaper in the countries I choose to live); this means savings for you. My fee is $100 an hour for tech consultancy and where projects involve many hours, this fee drops to typically $50.00 an hour.
1] Jerome Pier. Nutrient Management for Cannabis Gets Real https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/is/ffldrs/frep/pdfs/2018FREPPresentations/1-4PierCannabis.pdf
 Saloner A, Sacks MM and Bernstein N (2019) Response of Medical Cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.) Genotypes to K Supply Under Long Photoperiod. Front. Plant Sci. 10:1369. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2019.01369
 Landis, H.; Hicks, K.; Cockson, P.; Henry, J.B.; Smith, J.T.; Whipker, B.E. Expanding leaf tissue nutrient survey ranges for greenhouse cannabidiol-hemp. Crop Forage Turfgrass Manag. 2019, 5, 1–3.